Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Integrated World

The one serious disadvantage to living in a world of spin and rhetoric is the lack of anchorage to reality. We talk of people playing politics, but what does that really mean, when politics is the currency of government? I think what people mean is that politics is exercised to the exception of those things politics is meant to help with. By that standard, though, this administration, nor the party that supports it has done all that well.

Winning isn't everything. It isn't even much, if you've put yourself in a position of authority you weren't prepared for the responsibilities of. A person who grasps and fights for the presidency should not be surprised to find out it is hard work. You're only becoming chief executive of one of largest, most populous, and most complicated countries in the world.

And yet Bush thinks it's necessary to say it's hard work. You just figured that out now? I remember being somewhat off-put by how much Bush was on the road during his first term, especially when all he was doing was campaigning for his fellow Republicans. I was thinking, in this time of crisis, should the president's day be filled with photo-ops and stump speeches, or should it be filled with meetings with agency officials, briefings, and other things?

It seems like some define leadership in terms of bold promises, catchy catchphrases, and misty-eyed wistful speeches about the greatness of America. To me, though, this sounds like perpetual campaigning, and ultimately that's what much of Bush's leadership amounts to: he says the things his supporters want to hear, and says them often in different places.

Those who don't support him, though, notice the differences between what he constantly promises, and what actually comes to pass.

I have the expectation that when a leader says something, it should be a currency backed with the gold of truth, of facts, of wisdom and understanding, and not just in the abstract. the people spinning shouldn't be the smartest folks in the room. Bush's brain shouldn't be the guy running his political campaign, the one selling his image, and destroying that of his opponents. We cannot base our national security, our fiscal and economic stability, and our health and well being on the strength of of somebody's creative writing.

As a person who writes, reads, and watches science fiction and fantasy on a regular basis, I can say pretty authoritatively, that people can suspend disbelief on just about anything. All it takes is a willingness to believe and just the right details, in just the right pattern. Storytelling, whether fiction or non-fiction, is about what's inbetween the lines.

But it only works if the audience's logic doesn't work at cross purposes. People can disbelieve anything, too.

It all has to do with different directions of adaptation. We assemble a world in our minds, but also assemble questions about that world, questions brought on by details that don't fit or signs of things we reconstruct from memory. With this system of theory, experience, and memory. We are capable of adapting to the worlds in which we are born, and changing to fit the world over time.

We are also capable of divorcing ourselves from reality, with the right kind of effort. Politicians and people in power are particularly vulnerable to this, in part because the ability to disregard reality feels like a kind of power itself. From the counterculture to the Conservative culture, there are always folks who believe that the old order has fallen away, and that a new world is on the horizon. Get enough people to believe such things, and one can wield great power...

...only to see it fail to get anything done. Reality still exacts it's influence on the results of our efforts, on the rightness of what we do regardless of what we believe works, and is good. The Republicans enjoy asserting that the left is out of touch, and maybe that was true once upon a time. But now the tables have turned, and they've elected somebody who is better at making claims than staking them.

This administration doesn't want to listen to contrary voices. It doesn't want the left's opinion on who they will accept in the courts. It doesn't want any opinions that contradict their claim that the president's policies in Iraq will win the war if they are stuck to long enough. They don't want to hear that they may have gone to far in terms of the tactics they are using to fight the terrorists abroad. It doesn't want to hear that in this time of war, when we have too many crisises to deal with as it is, that they have to give up the tax cuts. Bush's too stuck on keeping a promise his father never should have made to do what is prudent, what is necessary. The pattern here is of a President who doesn't think he's done wrong, and won't hear differently from anybody.

Bush is a president who is guaranteed to fail, because he operates with the certainty of success, rather than the awareness that failure is possible. He will fail because he puts more energy in defending himself from those pointing out his mistakes than he does learning the nature of those mistakes and reconsidering his actions in their light. He will fail because there is no continuity between what he thinks will succeed, and what will succeed.

A leader can't just be inspiring. He must be wise and intelligent, and capable of dealing with the substance of mistakes and grievances, not just the word games and political battles over them. No leaders are perfect, but we can and we must have better leaders than Bush and today's Republicans.

Our leadership must be one that keeps itself aware of its fallibility, and is motivated by it to maintain higher standards of behavior, better standards of governance. We cannot afford a government that is locked inside it's own world, weapons ready to attack anybody trying to drag it out into the light of day.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 30, 2005 9:55 AM